Carolina Panthers

NFL’s concussion spotters can now stop play on field for medical check

Panthers Ryan Vermillion talks about concussions

Carolina Panthers head athletic trainer talks about concussions.
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Carolina Panthers head athletic trainer talks about concussions.

Early in the second quarter of the Carolina Panthers’ victory over Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7, cornerback Josh Norman had a big collision with running back DeMarco Murray along the sideline.

As Norman started to get to his feet, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis inadvertently bumped into him and knocked Norman back to the ground.

Head linesman Mark Hittner, watching this unfold a few yards in front of him, blew his whistle, waved his arms and had Norman leave the game to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

An angry Norman was directed to the bench by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, then returned after sitting out one play. Norman didn’t have a head injury.

But in today’s NFL, game officials – as well as those in the league office – say they would rather err on the side of caution when it comes to head injuries.

“The official of his own volition stopped it because he had identified a player he thought needed some assistance, which the officials are encouraged to do,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety. “So that was a good thing that we see more and more from the officials, where maybe in previous years that wasn’t part of their portfolio but is increasingly so now.”

The NFL implemented a new concussion spotting mechanism this year that was dubbed “the Edelman rule,” after Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.

In the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl in February, Edelman caught a pass from Tom Brady and took a big hit from Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, leaving Edelman unsteady on his feet.

A reporter from the Detroit Free-Press overheard the league’s injury spotter in the press box trying unsuccessfully to get the game stopped so Edelman could be checked for a concussion.

But with the Patriots down 10 and running a hurry-up offense, Edelman remained in the game and caught another pass during the drive, after which he crawled on the ground.

At the league meetings in March, owners voted to give medical spotters the authority to stop the game to have a player evaluated for a concussion. The spotters, who are certified athletic trainers, have a direct line from the press box to the referee via a headset.

Miller said the Edelman situation was one of several that prompted the league to expand the role of the concussion spotters.

There have only been two booth stoppages through the first eight weeks of the regular season, the first of which came during the Pittsburgh-St. Louis game in Week 3.

Spencer Elliott, an athletic trainer in Novant’s sports medicine division, has been the Panthers’ medical spotter since 2011 when the league put an extra set of eyes in the press box to look for potential injuries that might be missed by the trainers, team doctors and independent neurologists at field level.

Elliott and Ben Clanton, a video technician, sit in a tiny booth in the corner of the Bank of America Stadium press box. Their perch is crammed with two TV monitors, a computer, a two-way radio, a landline phone and a pair of binoculars.

Elliott can alert team doctors to potential injuries via communication stations on both sidelines that include monitors where the on-field medical staff can watch replays sent from the booth.

In a bit of foreshadowing more than an hour before the start of the Panthers-Eagles game on Oct. 25, Elliott said officiating crews had been more diligent in looking for players with possible head injuries.

“You’re also seeing this year the referees and crews are doing a great job of stepping up and (saying), ‘Hey, you need to come out of the game,’” Elliott said.

And while Norman turned out to be fine, the NFL is trying to be more safe than sorry.

Tips for parents

Q. Does a player have to black out to have a concussion?

A. One reason athletes, parents and coaches sometimes don't recognize a problem is because some still believe a player must lose consciousness to get a concussion. “A concussion is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. Even a ‘ding,’ ‘getting your bell rung,’ or what seems to be a mild bump or blow to the head can be serious,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Q. What are the warning signs that a child might have a concussion?

A.The warning signs include:

1) headache or pressure in head, 2) nausea or vomiting, 3) balance problems or dizziness, or double or blurry vision; 4) being bothered by light or noise, 5) feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy; 6) confusion, concentration or memory problems; 7) feeling “not right,” or feeling “down,” according to the CDC website.

Q. When should a child be taken to the emergency room, or 9-1-1 be called?

A. According to the CDC, seek help if the child displays any of these symptoms: a) one pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) larger than the other; b) drowsiness or cannot be awakened; c) a headache that gets worse and does not go away; d) weakness, numbness or decreased coordination; e) repeated vomiting or nausea, f) slurred speech, g) convulsions or seizures, h) difficulty recognizing people or places, i) increasing confusion, restlessness or agitation; j) unusual behavior, k) loss of consciousness (even briefly).

More info: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/headsup

Gary Schwab

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